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Pneumatic Structures Breathe New Life Into Brick and Mortar

Pneumatic Structures Breathe New Life Into Brick and Mortar
Arts & Culture

Design collective Pneuhaus uses inflatable cells to create flexible yet rigid structures

Vandana Nagaraj
  • 16 september 2015

Pneuhaus is a design collective that uses pressure systems to create large, semi-permanent habitable structures. Their projects meld the basic principles of masonry with pneumatics, a branch of applied physics that makes use of gas or pressurized air. In Pneuhaus’ work, air replaces the mason’s stone, and netting replaces the mortar. The net provides the overall shape, while inflated cells provide the strength needed to have a standing structure.

Pneuhaus’ structures are semi-permanent, as opposed to constant-air inflatable structures which are temporary. According to the Pneuhaus team, the cells can be fit together in a multiplicity of forms, unbound by rectilinear form. PSFK spoke with the design collective to discuss their recent Pneumatic Masonry project and the Playascape Burning Man structure they created.

pneumatic structures

pneumatic structures

PSFK: What is the inspiration for your work?

Pneuhaus: Contextually, our inspiration comes from the pioneers of inflatables in architecture such as Ant Farm, Coop Himmelblau, and Archigram. As a collaborating group of architects, artists, and designers, our inspirations come from a variety of fields. What comes out of our studio tends to hang in between these different disciplines. A lot of our inspiration originates from exploring the natural properties of air and developing a craft around it. Executing an idea and actually making it ourselves is also a very important process in the generation of new ideas and techniques.

pneumatic structures
pneumatic structures

Can you explain the technical difference between your work and other inflatable structures?

The feasibility and range of inflatables today is incredible. While you walk down the street and see inflatable wiggly men there are also design teams at NASA working on inflatable modules to be put in space. However, we see their uses either mostly utility or mostly entertainment with nothing in between. The tools and the medium are the same, but we are more interested in making things that are in the gap left by these two extremes. Our interest is in the different types of experiences that we can create using this technology. We work with the medium of air and fabric because of its room for innovation and its versatility–it packs-up small, we can make it in-house, it sets-up fast.

In what future contexts do you forsee your work being used?

Because of the ephemeral nature of our installations, they have mainly found homes at temporary events and festivals. But we are always looking for new realms. We have only scratched the surface with our explorations. There is such a broad spectrum of space to design around, private to public, temporary to permanent, indoor to outdoor, and everything in between. I think a short answer to where we see our work going is just more contexts. Looking way ahead, we want to be off the ground all together: designing in a airship.

pneumatic structures
pneumatic structures

Are permanent inflated cells possible?

This is actually a question we are working on. Pneumatic Masonry is the first iteration and Playascape (our project for Burning Man) is closer to an answer. Basically yes, permanent air-cells are possible as long as the cell is durable. For Playascape we took prefabricated inflatables, ship fenders, and used them as columns. These inflatables could last years maybe decades. The trick is making them durable to the sun, weather, and mostly people.

Pneumatic Structures

Pneumatic Structures

Pneumatic Masonry Photo Credits: Cassidy Batiz

Drawings and Playascape Photo Credits: Pneuhaus

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